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The Italian - Due

The following day was off as I shifted focus from the classic races to freestyle and the upcoming Sprint. On this day off, I squeezed in a midterm for one of my university courses. The Sprint day could be best described as a roller coaster of emotions. I approached the qualifying well. I had a good plan and knew how to set up the rest of the day. Finishing the qualifier, I was satisfied. I felt I had put in a great effort and skied well enough. I knew I wasn't perfect on a few corners and transitions and could improve those for the heats. I would qualify in 5th place, solid enough, meaning I moved on to the heats. My semi was a great race; I skied well and executed some great tactics for position and transitions. I ended up winning the semi and advancing to the finals. The result from the qualifier made me a little nervous, so I wasn't sure what would happen in the semi. After the semi, I was confident that I could be competitive in the final. I needed to put together another great race and see what would happen. I had an even better start in the final than in the semi. I felt relaxed and was in a strong second position, and I had used very little energy to get there. Going onto the next corner, I set myself up well, but one of the other competitors tried to pass me on inside the corner, but there wasn't enough space. His skis hit mine and knocked them from underneath me. And I went sailing around the corner sideways. I was on the ground and out of the race. That is an unfortunate way to end the race, but these things happen. I got up and skied the rest of the course. The exciting thing was that this final was so competitive and filled with some of the biggest and strongest skiers in the field, but that also meant I wasn't getting back into a competitive position after I fell. In the end, I would finish in fifth place. Now, there was always the question of what could have been. To add to the emotional roller coaster, I somehow regained the Leader's bib after the race. Again, I'm not sure if I've ever had the Cross-Country WC lead before, but now, I have earned it twice in three races. The catch was the next day's race and the last one in Toblach; I planned to skip.  

Competing in Martell, ITA - Photo credit: Josef Plaickner

A crazy few first races of the 2023/2024 World Cup season. And that wrapped up my racing from Toblach. Onto the following venue: Martell. I started the competitions in Martell as I had ended in Toblach – by skipping the first race in Martell. It was part of my plan, and my focus for the season is on the Biathlon World Championships in early March. But success there meant I had to look ahead, planning where I wanted to plan in bigger or lighter loads as I peak for Worlds. I intended to be selective with my racing within this block. Though the heart had difficulty letting go of this first race in Martell, it was for the greater plan. But saying no to a classic Sprint (historically one of my better Cross-Country events), coupled with great confidence in my classic skiing from the earlier races and promising speed from the Sprint. It tested my resolve to the plan. In hindsight, I know it was the best decision, but it was tough in the moment. The classic Sprint was the fifth and final Cross-Country race, leaving the remaining three races as Biathlon races. It was a late start to the Biathlon WC season, as the first race was on February 1. The season kicked off with a Sprint.

The Martell venue is a unique one. It is impressive how much they built into a narrow valley; some unique features add to the experience of competing there. From the start, you descend along the valley and then turn around to climb back to the range; after shooting, you continue to climb one of the harder sections of the course before an S-turn section brings you back to the starting or lapping area (or finish). The first lap of any race is very short and easy, but that means the final lap is much longer, and you have to climb this tough finishing climb twice before getting to the finish. And as a kicker, the valley is set at 1750m of elevation. Put all that together, and I can tell you I enjoyed racing in Martell. A lot of the features suited me well.

I had a simple plan in the Sprint, but I believed in it. I had an aggressive but measured start and set my tone in the first about of shooting, going clean. From the splits I received on the course, the staff said it was a tight competition. Three or four guys were in it after the first about, but I had a slight lead. I did the same thing in the second lap and repeated a clean shooting in the second bout. Again, the splits I was told were tight, but I had extended my lead by a few seconds. On that final lap, I had paced the race extremely well and was able to put in a strong effort over the final lap. During the entire lap, I thought I had to be fighting for every second. The race was close, but the two guys I was in the fight for the win were very fast skiers. Now that the shooting was over, it would be an all-out effort to the finish line. Halfway through the lap, I got my final split from the staff and I had extended my lead. I still could not let up. My strength and pacing shone through in the latter part of this race, and again, over the final climb to the finish, I would be putting further time into the field. I skied my way to victory and nearly doubled my advantage in the final lap alone. I started my season in early November; it has been a long time from then to now. To begin the season with a victory, with a fantastic performance. It's an awesome way to start.

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